Catholic Spirituality,  Family Life,  feast days

A Simple Advent Plan

And I do mean simple. In years past I’ve delved deep into the Church’s liturgical traditions and a mish mash of my own childhood to begin piecing together what our little family’s observation of the season would look like. Last year I even hosted an Advent series detailing other families’ traditions. It was awesome.

This year I have no tiny baby. I am not 10000 weeks pregnant, or pregnant at all, in fact. My kids, at 1, nearly 3, 4 and 6 are mostly sleeping through the night. And I am still tired.

It’s not the same kind of tired, but it’s of a quality that has me slowing down and looking for ways to scale back. To relax into the small t traditions of our own family, to discard what hasn’t worked in the past, and to adopt practices that will be truly helpful this year, in 2016.

It has been a long, hard year. I think the Year of Mercy was aptly named and excruciatingly effective. I know countless people for whom this has been true. Now that it has drawn to a close and we’re on the threshold of a fresh liturgical year, today in fact, it seems like the right moment to exhale deeply, to look around and see what might be simplified, and what might simply be superfluous, and to show it to the door.

This afternoon I spent some time decluttering our kitchen and living room. I loaded two large trash bags with unused dishes, unwanted vases, mismatched plates and too small snow boots. I know friends who could use some of this. I know the thrift store down the road could use the rest. Might I someday regret not having saved a pair of girl’s snow boots, size 4, should God send another daughter and should she be that size come wintertime?

Perhaps. But I doubt it. I doubt that holding onto the excess – even if it isn’t excessive by any stretch of the imagination – will bring me more peace, or bring more beauty to our small home.

I find myself craving silence, both visual and auditory. We played Christmas music on Thanksgiving day and it was warm and wonderful. And now we’re waiting until those big feast days in December to turn Kosi 101 back on when we’re driving. My James Taylor holiday playlist is sidelined. Not because it’s morally wrong to listen to Christmas tunes in Advent. But because I don’t have the stamina to carry that football from November through mid January. And every year I tell myself “this year we’ll celebrate all 12 days of Christmas. I won’t kick the tree to the curb on December 27th.” And every year I fail. Because I really don’t have the stamina for it. I’m not my sanguine 6 year old son, whom we’ve actually nicknamed Kringle, who gins up enthusiasm for Christmas lights come Labor Day. And since it largely rests on me to set the liturgical tone in our home, I’ve gotta do what works.

So limited Christmas music before the big day. St. Nicholas Day (Dec 6) for sure will see me cranking the Pentatonix. And the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8) will be bumping, too. And Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12th. And St. Lucy’s on the 13th. And, and…there’s no lack of feast days in December. The Church is good to her children like that.

In addition to shunning the tunes, I’m going to try to keep to a strict grocery budget these next 4 weeks, planning simple meals and resisting the temptation to stop for Chipotle or run through Chicfila. It will help our bottom line and waistlines, and it sets a more subdued tone for what is a season of sober preparation, if not penance. The readings from Mass today were sober, somber, and warning. If the master knew the hour the thief would come, he would be prepared. So too must we prepare for His coming – as a little baby, and at the end of time in glory, and in each of our lives at the moment of our own deaths. Forcing myself to plan and execute dinners that don’t involve ripping open a back of tortilla chips is a level 1 mortification I can practice that keeps my head in the “pray and prepare” game and doesn’t let me get too far into the “already party let’s party” game.

Finally, the tree. O Christmas tree. What a point of contention you have been in our young marriage. 7 years my husband has made the bigger compromise and let me acquire you early. And 7 years you have almost (and, once literally. Long story.) caught on fire, so dead you are come Christmas Day. This year we’re getting the tree on Evie’s birthday, which is December 15th. Still probably too early for some of the liturgical rigorists out there, but seems like an eternity to me, coming from a family whose tree was proudly twinkling over the Thanksgiving spread more years than not.

But I’m seeing as I settle into my 30s – well into them now, I might add – that I don’t have to fight to force traditions to appear, and that it isn’t necessary to duke it out over our respective family of origin practices. We’re never going to have a Thanksgiving tree, neither are we going to be running from tree lot to grocery store parking lot on Christmas Eve, looking for Charlie Brown’s foliage. We’re somewhere in the middle, and it’s working out pretty well.

Meanwhile, our kids are concocting traditions out of memories that I didn’t even realize they were making, that I wasn’t even aware were that important. The Jesse tree that I’ve failed to complete every year is gathering dust in the garage, and there it will remain. But the little manger and a box full of straw beside it, almost an afterthought last year, elicited shouts of joy when I brought it into the family room this morning.

I forgot to buy Advent candles or, um, a wreath, but we’ve got 4 black candlesticks lined up on the dining room table waiting to be filled, and somehow we have four separate nativity sets sprinkled throughout the house, all sans Bambino Gesu till the big day, and the kids are so excited about them. Again, not a tradition I painstakingly planned or executed to perfection. Just something that has sort of happened, and now they treasure it.

I hope this Advent season is a chance for spiritual recalibration and rest. And for you and yours, too. And if I am tempted to drum up a newfound devotion to St. Lucy so that I can put a crown of candles on Evie’s head, which is an adorable tradition but hasn’t found it’s way into our family liturgy, I hope I can chill instead. Sit on the couch with some candles lit and pray a Rosary. Read the Blessed is She devotional for the day and spend 4 minutes in silent mental prayer. Close some browser tabs on the computer and admit to myself that probably that thing I was thinking about buying isn’t really necessary. That maybe we can drop a meal off for someone or buy a coat for a kid who needs it with the money I would have spent.

I want to have the chillest Advent ever.

Who’s with me?

(But for the record, we’re still totally going to sit on Santa’s lap. He’ll be expecting us, after all.)



  • Sean

    This year we compromised between the Jesse tree and our Christmas tree. Why do we need two separate trees? So this year the “Christmas” tree will serve double duty and only have Jesse tree ornaments until the big day. We’ll add all the ornaments and turn on the lights then. At least, that’s the plan…

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Smart!! And yes, the plan versus reality. All my nativity scene characters are scattered throughout the house approximately 17 hours into the season…

  • Maria

    Yes, I think people feel pressured to take on traditions not their own- because they see it on Instagram or FB or a blog! When I was a child we had a big Nativiy scene (more like the whole village and surrounding countryside of Bethlehem- I remember even we had a little figurine of the devil who angrily watched from afar- this was in Mexico- I’ve never come across one of those figures here isn’t he states!), and a tree closer to the day of Christmas. Oh, and regular old every-day use stockings hung up – not specially made ones- I remember my brother always looked for the longest ones he could find in his drawer…

  • TerriB

    Love this. Have a newborn this year, in addition to 4 school aged kids and a toddler. We are in a rental house, waiting for God’s timing for our permament “putting down roots ” property.
    This article hit me in the heart and the feels. It’s like starting over in a way. Mom’s time isn’t my own but ruled by a tiny but cute master who needs frequent changing, feeding and holding.
    Such good inspiration as I begin my Advent reflections.
    None of this past year waa anything I expected!! It’s been wonderfully frustrating but teeming with blessing. Who knew dangling could be so risky?

  • Sarah

    When folks ask me if I am ready for Christmas, I think about our having no tree, no wreath on the front door, my haphazard present shopping and lack of wrapping, no Christmas cards sent, etc. I then say, I always say, “In my heart.”

  • jeanette

    One does not need to be without music during Advent. I believe that our music for Advent is very purposeful in our spiritual preparation. No, we don’t need to listen to Christmas music, but a good selection of Advent music is very helpful. One can purchase collections, or browse YouTube by titles and sample different versions of each one. For instance, I pray the Liturgy of the Hours, so for Compline (Night Prayer) Alma Redemptoris Mater is one choice, and there are many versions. I found the traditional chant and various polyphonic compositions as well. So, it is something I can play at night when praying Compline. So think about how you can incorporate some of the Advent music into your prayer life. For some help with which music is appropriate, let me recommend the Catholic Lectionary website, where there are resources for the Advent and Christmas season, and among those is a list of Advent music, both traditional and contemporary. (click on link and scroll down until you see the section on Advent music).

  • Liz

    I’m totally with you on the paring down plan for Advent! Truth be told, there’s a certain chaos that comes into every household at this time of year, whether we allow it in or try to fight it–especially in households with eager little kids. You’ve got to cut out the superfluous stuff when you actually can, all while knowing you can’t realistically eliminate all excess in order to have the “perfect” observation of Advent.

    I try to evaluate how much of the chaos I can reasonably control or eschew, and how much I just have to accept. One of the things that helps me the most is to cut out the Christmas shopping during Advent. I’ve got a child of my own, my husband, 12 nieces and nephews, and countless other people to whom I give gifts for Christmas each year. Even in this blessed age of online shopping, I’d be going NUTS if I had to do all that shopping in the month of December. So I plan ahead each year and order ALL Christmas gifts a month or two before Advent commences. I put real thought and consideration into the gifts I select, as I don’t have to pick anything in haste, with a December 25th “deadline” rapidly catching up to me. I try to do the wrapping as soon as the gifts arrive. Then I tuck them aside and don’t worry about them until it’s time to give them to the recipients.

    Without getting bogged down in all that consumer frivolity during Advent, it’s amazing how the extra time and mental energy to invest in better pursuits (like more prayer and works of mercy) seem to materialize on their own!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *